Sunday, June 04, 2017

The senescence of the United States

About five years ago my father-in-law, then in his mid-80s, of sound mind, gave my wife power of attorney and turned over management of his financial affairs, after 60 years of capably managing them himself.  "That's how it often works," his financial adviser told us. "They're very hands-on, and then suddenly they let go."

That came to mind as I read this Times editorial board review of Trump's "leadership":
In short order, Mr. Trump has pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ceding leadership on trade in Asia to China; refused to reaffirm the mutual defense commitment that has been the bedrock of trans-Atlantic security for half a century, forcing America’s European allies to think about dealing with threats like Russia on their own; and abandoned a landmark agreement on climate change signed by 190-plus other nations, ceding leadership on the issue to Europe and China, and, in the bargain, forfeiting the rewards of participating in a worldwide clean energy economy that the agreement will bring.
I'm not thinking of Trump here, but of the United States. Maybe, collectively, we got tired, our faculties sapped by 40 years of galloping inequality and risk shift, as we fell behind much of the developed world in education, opportunity, health care and income growth and outpaced our peers (all afflicted to some degree) in letting the superrich capture a growing share of national wealth and, concomitantly, power. The portion of our population mired in job loss, income stagnation, family and community disintegration and right-wing gaslighting reached critical mass.

It's a gross overgeneralization, and caveats can be piled on. A majority of voters didn't choose Trump; a larger majority of the population (including non-voters) don't support him. Resistance is robust -- in the population the media, the courts. Our economy outpaced that of most other developed nations throughout the Obama years. There's James Fallows' other America: innovative businesses and responsive local governments working effectively at renewal in many places hit hard by economic change. The national capacity for self-correction may still have enough juice to pull us out of the ditch before Trump lays waste to our institutions, or the world economy, or the world itself.

Time will tell. But in time, the signs of national senescence in our era may seem clear: the growing power of the 1% feeding on itself (see citizens united), the population progressively gaslit, our politics polarized to the point of paralysis.

1 comment:

  1. I'd pick a different metaphor. Senescence as an explanation for great-power policy works if the country really is older demographically than rivals, but with the exception of China, it's not, and even China now has a shrinking working-age population: http://www.businessinsider.com/china-working-age-population-already-shrinking-2016-5.

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